As women’s history month comes to a close, the Fisher Museum would like to honor our only female artist-in-residence, Jessica Cuautle. Cuautle has been training with Art Division for three years, and currently has two pastel portraits, Fluid and Breathe The Fire that debuted in Fisher/Art Division: Artists in Residence show. We sat down with the Echo Park native to talk about women, art, and her journey finding portraiture.
Earlier this week as Jessica Cuautle walked through the Fisher Gallery, she stood away from the small clusters of people, trying to enjoy her colleagues’ work without being noticed. But her electric blue hair filled the room with color.
Her work in the east gallery radiates its own rainbow of tart corals, soft shades of rose and cobalt. the fantastical colors, Cuautle thoughtfully renders her two friends in the pastel portraits.
It can take weeks to bring her subjects to life out of the multitude of colors.
“If I use a certain brand [of pastel] and lay it down, and then I go with another one on top, it erases the whole detail, so I have to practice a bit,” she explained.
This painstaking process is all with one goal in mind.
“My reason for doing art isn’t complicated: I want to show my love for people,” Cuautle stated gently.
Building upon layers of pastel allows her to capture the nuances of personhood and explore her private relationships with her models. The portraits of her two best friends are representations of each individual in her most extreme but familiar form.
“My friend Marie she loves the ocean, she’s really soft hearted, really emotional. I just wanted to showcase how she looks most of the time,” Cuautle said, gesturing fondly to the profile of a women with her head tilted back over her shoulder sensually.
As the Fisher Museum director Dr. Selma Holo says, Cuautle depicts “the real” in a person, and not just the shell.
“I don’t do it to make them pretty,” Cuautle clarified. “I know sometimes when people do portraits it’s just a face. They don’t really add anything to it; it’s just technical.”
The layers of personality she finds underneath are not unlike the treasure trove of emotions her favorite artist, John Singer Sargent, once talentedly uncovered.
The emotional lives of women are particularly fascinating to Cuautle.
“Because of [my friends’] personalities, I feel like they are needed in this world to function. My friend Marie is very helpful with everybody very carrying, very motherly, and my friend Ocely
is very strong, very straightforward and sometimes a little harsh. But I feel like everyone needs that kind of friend to surround themselves with. I just wanted to appreciate them in portraits,” noted Cuautle.
When asked how her friends would describe her, Cuautle replied, “I’m kind of both of them. I can be very blunt and very harsh at times. At the same time, I am kind of mom to people and I do like to take care of them.”
She certainly brings this balance to the art studio. Cuautle is the only female artist in her Art Division class, and has carved out her own role.
With no hesitation, she vocalized, “I know most of the time it’s a bunch of guys drawing but your work will speak for itself. I know sometimes a lot of girls they get a little intimidated because the guys have so much energy to paint and women are more sensitive to their surroundings.”
Cuautle’s philosophy on being a woman in art:
“Its not a competition…I’m here to help if you need my help,” she said.
Although her residency at the Fisher Museum will be ending soon, she has no plans on slowing down. Now that she’s completed her largest portraits ever, she’s got her eye on illustration and bringing her shy courage to art school.
Blog post by Jordan Winters, intern at USC Fisher Museum of Art.